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My Favourite Things About Hannover

It has to be said, when one is planning a holiday to Germany, much less thinking of MOVING to Germany, Hannover really isn’t the first city to come to mind as a very exciting or attractive option.  In fact, it probably wouldn’t even make it into your top 10 list of possible German cities to visit, ever!  I first moved here 4 years ago and, to be honest, I often ask myself how I could have ended up in such a place as this.  Hannover is a typical regional German city; it’s pretty low-key and quiet, with not MUCH going on, and for most of the year we wake up to that characteristically dark, grey, northern German sky.  Hannover was also completely decimated during the allied bombing of World War II, so a lot of the city is made up of ugly, new infrastructure.  All in all, life can get kind of miserable here.

However, Hannover has been a city that I have made my home for the last 4 years, and this has forced me to seek out the great sides of the city that ARE there – they do exist!  Even when I am fed up of life here, there are things and aspects of this city that I really do appreciate, even more so when I visit other cities which lack them.  I have also found some special corners of Hannover that I know I am going to miss when I move away, so I thought, while I am still here, that I would write about them on my blog.  Perhaps this will be a post that I can look back on if I ever feel homesick for this place (doubtful).  And if, for whatever reason, you may find yourself with some time to spend in this city, maybe you can take me up on some of these suggestions!

The first thing that I particularly like about Hannover is how convenient it is to get around the city.  The main hub of the city is pretty small which means that I can pretty much get around everywhere fairly quickly by foot – for someone like me who doesn’t drive, this is wonderful.  It’s also a very bike-friendly city, with proper bike paths on basically every street. The street tram and bus transport system works really well too, if you do need to get to a more remote area, and the lines will even take you way out-of-town to neighbouring villages.  Local transport is also very cheap; a day ticket for zone 1 is only about €5.50 and for all 3 zones it still costs under €10.  Just knowing that transport is there for me if I need it is very freeing and I am thankful to have been able to make use of it.

 

Something that I have noticed about Hannover which I think makes it a really unique place, especially in comparison to other German cities, is that the culture and lifestyle of the people here is very normal and pretty low-stress.  Wealth is not at all displayed in this city; there are very few expensive or designer shops, there is no ‘super-rich area’, no pretentiousness and no feeling of disparity between the different classes of people.   It really doesn’t matter which neighbourhood you say you live in, in Hannover, and I appreciate that people across the whole city have a general feeling of community – everyone is just going about their normal day-to-day business, and that makes it an easy place to live.

The amount of green space that this city holds is wonderful.  There is a huge forest called the Eilenriede, or Alder Moor, right in the centre of the city, directly behind the Musik Hochschule actually, and Hannover is full of other smaller parks, trees and nice greenery.  The river that flows through Hannover, the Leine, also has lovely green parks running alongside it, which makes for some nice walks and is also a great place to drink a beer or cook up a barbeque on a warm summer evening.  One of my favourite spots to go for walks, especially as it is around the corner from where I live, is up around the Deister Berg.  You walk up a small hill and instantly feel like you are in the countryside.  The best time of year up there is in the spring, when the bluebells come out and are just gorgeous.

Bluebells up on Deister Berg

An autumnal walk around the Deister

 

I couldn’t write about Hannover without mentioning beer – beer culture here is just as strong as it is anywhere in Germany.  There are two particular features of how the Hannoverians treat beer that I especially enjoy.  The first conveniently leads on from my previous point about the city’s green spaces and nice walks, and that is the wonderful beer gardens that Hannover boasts.  I know they exist elsewhere too, but I do love to spend evenings with friends at the beer gardens here; the atmosphere is always so friendly and jovial and it’s always a fun time!  My favourite beer gardens in Hannover are situated in the middle of nice walks around the city, which is why these two things go together no nicely!  There’s the one on top of Deister Berg, located in an old water tower called Lindener Turm, there’s one at Waterloo Platz, which is huge and great for watching big football matches, and there’s a smaller and more hippie one called Biergarten Gretchen which is very nice too!  The second way I like to enjoy beer in Hannover is by something called KioskKultur.  Hannover has the largest number of kiosks (like a newsagent or corner store) of any German city, and a very strong part of life here is to get together with friends, grab a beer from a kiosk and enjoy it outside together while wandering around or sitting somewhere in public.  On any normal Friday evening, or Feierabend as we call it, this is what you will see most people doing – the vibes are definitely very chilled and it’s a really nice way to unwind at the end of the week.

The beer garden at Lindener Turm, one fall Sunday

Delicious pumpkin cake also served at the turm!

 

Germany is so steeped in history, and although, as I mentioned earlier, Hannover was mostly destroyed during the Second World War, there are small souvenirs of history dotted around the city which are really interesting to see.  If you head into the Neues Rathaus, the new town hall – also quite a fine and impressive looking building with nice views from the top, you can look at the four miniature models of Hannover that have been set up.  There is one to represent what the city looked like during the Middle Ages, one at the outbreak of the war, another just after the war, and one showing what the city looks like now.  It’s remarkable to see all the different stages of development and destruction that Hannover has gone through.  Across from the Rathaus are the remains of an old bombed out church called the Aegidienkirche, originally built in the 1300s.  These remains have been left by the city as a war memorial and every day, four times per day, the restored bells ring out over the city.  There is also a ‘peace bell’ located in the bell tower – a gift to Hannover from its sister city of Hiroshima, Japan.  Every year, on 6th August, both cities ring their bells together as a tribute to their sad histories.  Another interesting sight to see in Hannover is the Maschsee, although it too has a dark story.  During the years of the Third Reich, Hitler ordered for this lake to be built out of slave labour by the persecuted Jews.  Today you can still see where the old Nazi monument stood, although the city parliament has done it’s best to deface it and now even holds food and music festivals around this lake!

Old Nazi monument at the Maschsee

View of the Rathaus over the Maschsee

 

Speaking of festivals, there are so many going on in Hannover, all year round.  The best one though, and the one that I truly will be missing, is the Weihnachtsmarkt, or Christmas market.  Of all the Christmas markets that I have been to all around Germany and Austria, Hannover’s is honestly the best one!  There are so many different sections to it, each with their own special delicacy; the cosy pine forest, the Scandinavian log fire-roasted salmon, the medieval street performers, the blacksmiths, the amazing sausages and spicy mustard, the mead, the little market stalls selling handmade decorations and textiles… And the Glühwein!!! Glühwein with rum, Glühwein with amaretto, Glühwein with brandy.  Oh, it is so delicious and so perfect for a cold winter night!

‘The Pyramid’ – The notorious meeting spot for Glühwein at Hannover’s Weihnachtsmarkt

 

Lastly, I thought I would just mention a few other things I like to do in my spare time in Hannover, and the places I like to go.  In Hannover’s most famous attraction, the Herrenhausen Palace, is a building called the Orangerie – a large room totally decked out with insanely beautiful (and original!) murals all over the walls.  Perhaps I am biased because I have seen only fabulous concerts here, including one by Isabelle Faust that I won’t ever forget, but it is such an amazing space to see a performance in, so I definitely recommend checking out what’s on there.

The beautiful interior of the Orangerie

We don’t get very many movies in their original languages here in Hannover, and most English films are unfortunately dubbed.  However, every now and then there are a couple of really cool cinemas that do show original movies and they are really fun to see.  The Astor is a bigger cinema, with lots of screens and the full popcorn-movie experience, although it’s not the cinema that the kids choose to go to which makes it a much more pleasant experience!  If you pay a few more €’s, you can also be served wine and beer at your comfortable reclining seat!  Another tiny independent cinema is called the Hochhaus Lichtspiele – they show only independent or foreign films in their original version, about once per month.  There is only one screen here and it’s a very casual atmosphere, with scattered comfy seating and simple cushions on the floor, if that’s what floats your boat.

The Altstadt flea market, which takes place every Saturday along the Leine, come rain or shine, is something in Hannover that is not to be missed.  It is Germany’s oldest flea market and it’s huge!  You can find lots of treasures here; from unique LP’s to bits of handcrafted furniture, jewellery and old china wares.  It’s also where I got my Zassenhaus coffee mill for 20 Euros!

Some scenes from the Altstadt Flea Market

 

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Neuschwanstein Castle: How To Do It and Everything You Need To Know

Schloss Neuschwanstein is, without a doubt, one of the most breathtakingly beautiful and interesting castles I have ever visited – and I have lived in Europe all my life, I’ve been to a lot of castles.  Built surprisingly NOT that long ago in the second half of the 19th century by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, the castle is located deep in the heart of the Bavarian region of Germany, about two hours outside of Munich, towering above the small village of Hohenschwangau.  The castle itself was originally intended to be a quiet and remote refuge, just far enough away from Munich, where Ludwig II, who was somewhat of a recluse, wanted to live out his last days in peace and privacy.  As a personal homage to Wagner, the king adorned the interior rooms of the castle with stunning frescos that depict all of Wagner’s operas and, combined with strategically placed balconies that give truly awe-inspiring views, this is a REAL fairytale castle to behold.

 

 

For a long time now, I have been wanting and planning to visit Schloss Neuschwanstein, and I finally got the chance to last week.  After my visit, I came away with many thoughts about the whole experience, which I thought might be worth writing up in a blog post here, in case any readers may also be interested in visiting this castle.  I will say that a visit to this castle is definitely worthwhile and you SHOULD go.  However, there are some extremely useful things to know beforehand, some that I did and others that I wish I did, so I hope you find this post helpful.  * I will not discuss the castle itself or its history in this post, other than what I outlined in the introductory paragraph – this post will only cover how to visit the castle and what to expect when you get there.

The first thing to know about visiting Neuschwanstein, before you decide to go and start planning your trip, is that it is totally over-run with tourists.  I don’t say this to put you off going – I still maintain that a visit to this castle is worthwhile – but you have to keep in mind that the crowds and tour buses and selfie-sticks and cheap souvenirs are RIFE.  They try to get as many people through the interior room tour of the castle as quickly as possible, which means there really is no time to stop and admire the beauty of it all, except for a second, before being herded off into the next room (but more about the interior tour later).  So, if you are OK with dealing with tourists and crowds and crowds of people, then great, but if you know you cannot get on board with that, then I would suggest doing something else.

How to get there

The train

If you are travelling to Neuschwanstein independently by train from Munich, don’t worry, it’s not a complicated trip.  You will need to take a train from Munich Main Station (München Hauptbahnhof) to Füssen – it takes about two hours and Füssen is the last stop on the line so you can’t miss it.  By the way, the train journey becomes very scenic as you approach the mountains, so try to get a window seat!  Once you arrive in Füssen, you take a bus no. 78 to Neuschwanstein Castle – it will say this on the front of the bus and there will be hundreds of people taking the same bus (usually they actually provide a few buses leaving at the same time) so just follow the crowd if you aren’t sure!  The bus drops you off just at the bottom of the mountain on which the castle sits, and there will be signs to the ticket centre.

Buying the travel tickets

Very important: don’t fall into the trap of buying the VERY expensive full price train ticket from Munich to Schloss Neuschwanstein, which can cost over €100!!  If you are travelling alone or in a group of up to 5 people, get the Bavarian region ticket, or Bayern Ticket, available from any ticket machine.  This ticket allows you to travel anywhere within the region of Bavaria on any regional RE/RB train (so NOT an ICE train, which you don’t need for Neuschwanstein anyway), as well as on any local transport services, and it is MUCH cheaper.

For 1 person: €23

For 2 people: €31

For 3 people: €37

For 4 people: €43

For 5 people: €49

This ticket will get you all the way to the castle and back, and then to wherever you are staying in Munich city!  One thing to remember about the Bayern Ticket, is that it cannot be used before 9am – for getting to Neuschwanstein this means the first train you can take from Munich is at 09:52, arriving at the castle at about 12:20.

Getting up to the castle

Once you have acquired your tickets for entrance to the castle from the ticket centre, you may hike up the hill to the castle, which takes 35-40 minutes, take a horse-drawn cart, €7 to get up the hill and €3.50 to go down, or take the shuttle bus, also for a small fee.  Note: if you decide to take the horse cart or the bus up to the castle, you will be dropped off a little way down from the castle, so there will still be a bit of walking to do.  If you are travelling with someone who is disabled, they may find this difficult.

When you arrive up at the castle, there will be many viewpoints and benches to sit and have a snack on, as well as maps and touristy souvenir shops.  You will have a tour time designated to you on your ticket and you can enter the castle at that time.  Upon entering the castle, your bag will be checked by a very friendly and jolly security team and if you are wearing a backpack, you will be asked to wear it front ways, so just be prepared for that.

What to do at the castle

Castle tickets

I would highly recommend booking your tickets to enter the castle online in advance, as the queue to buy them then and there went on for miles!  I know the website can be a bit confusing, but basically how it works is: you reserve the number of tickets that you want online, stating whether you also want to include the tour of the interior rooms, and provide your credit card info online in advance (you won’t be charged at this point).  If you choose to do the interior tour, you must select a time for the tour that is 90 minutes after you arrive at the castle, so that you have ample time to look around and get up to the castle entrance.  Therefore, at this point, you have to figure out your arrival times/train times.  We took the 09:52 train mentioned above, and had booked our tour for 14:50, and this gave us loads of time to have lunch, take it all in, take some pictures etc.  So I would recommend following a schedule like that.

When you arrive at the ticket centre, you may join the (much smaller and quicker) line for pre-reserved tickets – make sure you have your confirmation email of your reserved tickets to show the ticket person.  Then you are free to do as you like until your tour time!

If you have opted out of the tour, there is still plenty to do; you can hike up to the castle and around it to the Marienbrücke, you can rent a paddle boat and go out onto the gorgeous lake, have a picnic, stop at a Gasthaus…

 

 

The interior tour

OK – I’ll say it again, I really do think that seeing inside of the castle is worth it.  It is unlike anything I have seen; the murals and paintings depicting different Wagner operas are stunning, each room is different and decorated in a unique style and the views from the windows and balconies are absolutely amazing … it’s definitely a special place.

BUT.  What they really mean by ‘tour’, is that you will be in a group of about 100 people, and every person will be given their own audio guide (mine failed to work for the first few minutes).  The ‘tour guide’ will activate all the audio guides at the same time, to which we will all listen in silence.  Each audio clip for each room lasts about 3 minutes, before we are quickly herded into the next.  In most cases, as I was at the back of the tour, I didn’t even manage to squeeze into the room that the audio guide was telling me about at that moment, so the audio guide really became irrelevant to me.  The tour behind ours even began to overtake me, so there really is NO time to linger and look more closely at the artwork, which is SUCH a shame.

So, there it is.  If you are claustrophobic, or can’t stand that kind of treatment, this isn’t for you.  I feel somewhat conflicted because I hated it, but am still glad I got to see those brilliant paintings, which I will remember.  Also, good to know is that there are lots of windy narrow staircases, so if you have vertigo this might not be for you.

 

 

Marienbrücke

Leading off from the entrance to the castle, you have the option to walk over to the Marienbrücke – about a 20-minute hike that takes you to a bridge which gives you the best views over the castle.  Again, I did it, and I’m glad because I got some good photos, but you could barely move on the bridge at all because of the number of people who were on it.  We were all pretty much pressed right up against each other – not a nice experience and actually a little scary as you could definitely feel the dangerously thin-looking wooden planks under you wobble under the weight of all the people!

Practical info

What to eat

There are several options for what to do about food on your visit to Neuschwanstein.  First, you have the village of Füssen, where you arrived at by train.  There are several Gasthauses there.  I can’t say this for sure, but it looked to me like the closer you got to the castle itself, the more touristy and not very good the Gasthauses/cafes seemed to be! When you alight from the 78 bus near the ticket centre for the castle, you have more options for these kinds of cafes. They are all extremely typical Bavarian in style and food that they offer, and looked pretty expensive.  As you make your way up to the castle, you will have more of these options, as well as the chance to buy ice-creams and snacks from the little shops around the entrance to the castle.

What I honestly suggest is to bring your own picnic.  The nature of the place is what is most beautiful, and if you are lucky enough to go on a day with great weather, why not make the most of it!  There are lots of nice spots to set up in, which is what we did, and it felt wonderful to enjoy some food outside in that environment.

 

 

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